Now that’s what people are talking about when they get all giddy about a game seven finale for a championship series! It wasn’t the prettiest game ever played in the World Series. It wasn’t without its head-scratching moments. But, man, was it entertaining. Especially if you weren’t committed to either team. I can’t imagine what that game was like for Cubs and Indians fans.
First off, props to MLB for starting the game on time. How many major sporting events list an 8:00 start time actually begin closer to 8:20? I flipped over to the game at 8:03 and had already missed the first two pitches of the game. Fortunately, I was just in time to see Dexter Fowler’s home run. The first of many crazy moments in this game.
Second, and this may get lost in history, I think the overall mood of the game was greatly enhanced by all the Cubs fans in attendance. It gave the game more the feel of an event between high school rivals than a traditional World Series game. There were several thousand Royals fans in New York last year for game five. Same with Giants fans in Kansas City for game seven the year before. But in each case they were the distinct minority, and the final outs of each game were played to mostly silence. But last night had a wonderful ebb-and-flow between the delirious Cubs and Indians fans. I’m guessing it was 60/40 Indians fans. Whatever the true ratio, it made for a great viewing experience.
Third, the swings in this game! Fowler’s home run. Cleveland ties it and ignites/settles the home crowd. Cubs stretch out a lead. The pitching changes. Cleveland scores two on a wild-freaking-pitch. David Ross and Javy Baez’s home runs. Indians score three in the 8th – all with two outs – including Rajai Davis’ home run that sent the crowd into a frenzy and will go down as one of the great home runs that, ultimately, didn’t matter. Extra innings! A MOTHERFUCKING RAIN DELAY!!!!! Cubs score two in the tenth. Indians answer with one but can’t get the tying run home. Cubs win, Cubs win, Cubs win.
It was exhausting and totally fantastic.
After Davis’ home run, I was 90% sure the Cubs would lose. It was clear Joe Maddon didn’t trust anyone in his bullpen, so the advantage swung to the Indians, who still had fresh arms. And I kept thinking, what an epic, cruel, crushing way to lose. Four outs away, up three runs, and they piss it away. Again. Curses are dumb media fabrications, but maybe they do exist.
I wasn’t going out on any great limbs when I said Terry Francona and Maddon were two of my favorite, and best, managers in the game. Most experts would agree. But I thought both guys had rough nights last night. Francona pulled a Ned Yost and left Cory Kluber in too long. Granted, it was Kluber, and I think it’s always tough to pull your ace, even in an all-hands game. But for a manager who has been extremely aggressive with his bullpen use in the postseason, Francona blinked at the wrong time.
That shouldn’t distract from what Francona did over the past month. The Indians grabbed home field from the Red Sox on the last day of the regular season, went 7–1 in the AL playoffs, and had a 3–1 lead in the World Series. All with a team that was in terrible shape because of injuries and really didn’t hit much for most of the postseason. He just gets guys to play well.
Maddon was kind of a mess this series. Getting Kyle Schwarber into the lineup, and putting him in the 2-hole, was a fantastic move. Schwarber’s hit to start the 10th last night turned into the go-ahead run, and I think his presence helped everyone around him in the games he played.
But Maddon’s handling of his pitchers was baffling. I thought he pulled Jake Arrieta too early in game six. And used Aroldis Chapman far too long in that game. Same last night. He pulled both Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester too early. His overuse of Chapman left the closer a shell of himself, and it nearly cost the Cubs the series. It’s one thing to be aggressive. But Maddon’s moves often felt more like panic than unorthodox thinking.
The Cubs won, though, so I guess Maddon knew what he was doing.
Ben Zobrist hitting doubles in October/November. I approve. Funny how a guy who spent three months with the Royals is absolutely beloved by us KC fans, and probably always will be. If he had knocked the Royals out of the playoffs instead of Cleveland, I bet a lot of us would say, “Well hell. At least it was Ben who did it.”
The thing I kept thinking over the past three games, as the Cubs have sat on the verge of elimination, is how empty you would have to feel if you were a Cubs player and came all that way only to fall short. Getting to the NLCS last year and getting swept. Then starting this year with an improved roster, the pressure (both externally and internally) squarely on you to break the 108-year drought this year, and then delivering in every way…except reaching that final goal. Spring training, a long, grueling regular season where you won 103 games, winning two rounds of the playoffs, and then stumbling at the last step. I know the Cubs are loaded to be good for several years, but that would really suck to have to start over again next spring. That’s the beauty and the bitch of sports.
That was a great game. One for the ages. If my team can’t be winning the World Series, that’s the kind of game I want to watch. Thanks to the Cubs and Indians, and baseball itself, for giving us that gift to end the season.
And now we move on to the cold, bleak off season. A time when basketball can provide some comfort, but in which we are always looking forward to the day pitchers and catchers report, and to the next Opening Day.